A season that began with a promising, 4-2 start has deteriorated into a season that is well beyond compare for Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente.
The Hokies (4-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) have had games postponed, have lost two games by a total of four points, battled through COVID-19 outbreaks, had player defections and carry a three-game losing streak into Saturday night's game against visiting No. 3 Clemson (8-1, 7-1 ACC) in Blacksburg, Va.
"You can't compare anything to this season," Fuente said. "This is the most absurd thing I've ever been through -- and I don't mean bad. I just mean you can't make this stuff up.
"We lost two heartbreaking football games back to back, at home, that were brutal, absolutely brutal in the midst of all this other stuff. I don't see any parallels between this season and anything else we've ever done."
Essentially the game boils down to one team attempting to get back on track against another tracking toward a sixth consecutive ACC championship and sixth straight College Football Playoff berth. Clemson advances to the ACC title game against No. 2 Notre Dame (9-0), which beat the Tigers earlier this season, with a win.
"We have a tremendous challenge this week, obviously, with Clemson coming into town," Fuente said. "We'll have to do a great job to give ourselves a chance against an incredibly talented football team."
Clemson is a 22-point favorite in the game, which is set for a primetime kickoff on national television.
The Tigers are coming off a 52-17 victory against Pitt in which quarterback Trevor Lawrence returned to the starting lineup after missing two games with COVID-19 and passed for 403 yards and two touchdowns.
"Every now and again you come up against a guy where you say there's really nothing this guy can't do," Fuente said. "When you look at Trevor and what he's been able to accomplish -- the efficiency of his play, his ability to run the ball basically when they need him to but deliver the ball down the field and run the offense ... and by all indications he seems to be a great leader as well. He's probably going to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, and deservedly so. I can't imagine a more talented guy with a higher ceiling than what his potential is moving forward."
Clemson has won five consecutive games against the Hokies.
"We've got a big challenge this week and this will be a different type of challenge than what we've seen -- night game, Blacksburg, snow, rain," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "Fans may look at their record and be quick to judge somebody. But that's not what we do as coaches."
Hokies quarterback Hendon Hooker ranks second in the country in all-purpose yards.
"It's option football in a nutshell, but with a guy who can throw the ball really, really well and with a lot of eye candy to go with it," Swinney said. "You name it, they've got it. But it all starts with running the football."
Few can match the Hokies in that regard. Led by running back Khalil Herbert, Virginia Tech is tied for third nationally among Power 5 teams with 24 rushing touchdowns; Clemson has allowed an ACC-low six rushing touchdowns this season.
Herbert has 1,510 all-purpose yards and the Hokies lead the ACC in rushing offense at 251 yards per game. Clemson's rushing defense is third in the league, allowing 102.6 yards per game, and held Pitt to 16 yards on the ground on Saturday.
"He's an excellent player who plays with vision and instincts," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "He's got a great burst, he's hard to get down, gets a lot of yards after contact."
--Field Level Media
|9/30/17||CLEM 31||VT 17||332||146||186||342||90||252|
|Virginia Tech||J. Jackson||65.9||251||1||2|
|Virginia Tech||C. Fox||5||39||7.8||0|
|Virginia Tech||C. Phillips||7||74||10.6||0|
|Virginia Tech||S. Savoy||2|
|Virginia Tech||H. Hooker||65.1||1332||9||5|
|Virginia Tech||K. Herbert||114||925||8.1||6|
|Virginia Tech||T. Turner||31||504||16.3||3|
|Virginia Tech||H. Hooker||9|
|Clemson Off vs Virginia Tech Def|
|Virginia Tech Off vs Clemson Def|